Interlude: Isabella & The Pot of Basil

I’ve been in a bit of a snit recently, hence the radio silence. I had to take myself in hand at one point and force myself out of the house. Many of the local libraries and galleries local to me are currently running small but very well constructed World War 1 exhibitions, so I headed to the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle to see their petite but interesting selection of original art produced by artists local to my region. I particularly liked lithographs by brothers Philip & Robert Spence from North Shields, and an imposing post war picture by Christopher Richard Wynne Nevison‘s Twentieth Century that was based on Rodin’s Thinker and somewhat taller than me!

WW1 Ambulance Lithograph by Robert Spence

WW1 Ambulance Lithograph by Robert Spence

I like the Laing, I often used to lurk in there on my lunch breaks as it’s a pretty building and has a nice shop. I know very little about art, but I do like to visit the John Martin paintings there, my favourites being The Burning of Sodom & Gomorrah (which was a commentary on the hell of post industrial revolution factories) and Clyte, where she almost seems to float off the canvas with her own inner light (sadly not captured in a photo).

However, the picture that completely lifted me out of my gloom on this particular visit was one I’d not noticed before – William Holman Hunt’s Isabella and the Pot of Basil – it had previously been hung up high on the stair walls. Quite rightly it is now more prominently displayed in the permanent collection. It is absolutely stunning. The canvas is massive, I felt dwarfed standing before it.  I’ve seen the Titians at the National Gallery in Edinburgh – this for me actually rivalled them for beauty. The picture I am inserting into this post doesn’t do it justice – it absolute glows from the wall and the intricate details, such as the skulls on the post, are exquisitely rendered. It in turn was inspired by the John Keats poem Isabella.

Holman Hunt's Isabella & the Pot of Basil

Holman Hunt’s Isabella & the Pot of Basil

I just sat and admired it. Didn’t want to leave it. Actually wanted to steal it. Still do. It’s amazing how something painted over 150 years ago can still be so fresh, so vivid – and yet the artist will never know how it continues to reach people. A melancholy thought perhaps. But fitting to my current frame of mind.

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